Party manifestos and SDGs

Published: September 1, 2018
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The writer heads Pattan Development Organisation and can be reached at bari@pattan.org

The writer heads Pattan Development Organisation and can be reached at bari@pattan.org

Voted or not — for or against. That matters little now as hope touches new heights. I experienced similar euphoria in the general election of 1970. It ended in bloodbath because election results were not acceptable to a few. There is no dearth of similar howling. Don’t ignore them. Handle them with care and wisdom. But focus on good governance, because the citizens are expecting from all the winning parties to deliver on their stated promises in their respective domain. However, the PTI and its allies carry the heaviest burden of responsibility because of their majority at the Centre. Unlike previous governments, the PTI governments at the Centre and in provinces are going to have a grinding scrutiny. Solo flight won’t work. Participatory decision-making is the key across all levels of governance, state institutions and structures to move ahead.

Don’t forget the context. Pakistan has perhaps the most critical media, proactive judiciary, best road infrastructures and a well-connected geography in South Asia. Yet the country is considered as the ‘sick man’ of South Asia because our successive governments hugely failed us on social sector development. For instance, they failed us miserably to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000-15 and the Social Action Plan in the 1990s. Widespread corruption blinded them from their main responsibility — service delivery. Their poor track record doesn’t generate much confidence. However, the PTI’s emergence as a leading political party appears to have reawakened the nation’s hope. It has to work very hard to lift the social sector out of this ugly quagmire.

Though our economy is under huge stress, social-sector development could be improved with little extra funds and by enhancing utilisation rates of allocated budget. International environment is also extremely favourable because of the introduction of the SDGs 2015-30. Especially note that the last goal binds all actors for partnership at global, national and local levels. Overall the SDGs regime in Pakistan consists of 17 goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators. The UN Statistical Commission will review Pakistan’s progress on a regular basis. Therefore, generating exact data is essential. The Federal SDGs Support Unit claims that it has made all the arrangements in this regard.

Encouragingly, most party manifestos acknowledged Pakistan’s commitment to international community, including the SDGs. For example, the PPP manifesto 2018 stated, “The country has agreed to the United Nations’ SDGs, including reducing maternal mortality rate by 2030 to 70 per 100,000 live births, the infant mortality rate to 12 or less per 1,000 live births, and the under-5 mortality to 25 or less per 1,000 live births.” The PTI manifesto in its sections 3 and 6 also refers to SDG-6. It says, “Only 36% of Pakistan’s population has access to clean drinking water, which puts us off-track from meeting SDG-6 of universal safe water provision by 2030.”

The PPP manifesto also covers most of the goals, including freedom from hunger, poverty reduction, and women empowerment, etc. It also promises economic justice but doesn’t commit itself concretely on any of its point.

Like the PPP, the PTI manifesto too (especially chapters 3 and 6) covers social-sector development, including healthcare, education for all, social safety, clean drinking water for all, sanitation and climate change and green Pakistan. Also, it promises gender parity, empowerment of people at the grassroots level through local government, right to information and freedom of the press.

The PTI in its manifesto acknowledged the worst ranking of Pakistan on the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum and the party fully understands the underlying factors — ‘poor access to education, low labour force participation, high mortality rate and prevalence of violence against women.’ Though the PTI’s manifesto does set targets for the party in sections on youth employment, taxation, housing, etc, it doesn’t set concrete targets for other social sectors.

In spite of numerous shortcomings in the election manifestos, they do provide sufficient ground to build future course of action on public policy. The SDGs regime is being accepted by all major parties. Thus it provides best direction. The ruling parties ought to set up task forces to harmonise their manifestos in the light of 17 SDGs, 169 targets and 230 indicators. Furthermore, while the SDGs regime will come to an end in 2030, the election manifestos cover just five years period (2018-23). Therefore, political parties should set targets and indicators for five years period. This will not only help them to measure their progress on a regular basis and claim credit, but it will also help the public to make them accountable.

The good news is that in 2017 our parliament had adopted the SDGs as a national development agenda. Moreover, various measures have already been taken to move forward, including establishment of the National Framework on SDGs, Support Units in provinces, completion of the conduct of data gap analysis, and issuance of a declaration by the representatives of local councillors and involvement of youth through universities, INGOs and NGOs, etc. In short, bureaucrats and technocrats appear to have completed the paperwork. They are good in that and rewarded well. But the real challenge is enforcement. And they have little interest or expertise in that.

The pivot of the SDGs’ regime is the concept of the ‘localisation’. This means ‘making the aspirations of the SDGs to make real for communities (men and women), households, particularly those who are at risk of falling behind (neglected)’. In other words, it means the end of marginalisation processes. The Article 140-A of our Constitution categorically guarantees localisation. It states, “Each province shall by law is to have political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.”

However, local councils, which are central to achieving the SDGs’ targets, have not been empowered in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Currently more than 45% of local councillors are not elected through adult franchise. They are also being made subservient to bureaucracy and provinces, an inherently jeopardising mechanism. This is equal to negating the Declaration of the Local Government Summit on SDGs. Therefore, mere establishment of the LG Committee on SDGs is not enough. Local government Acts must be amended in view of the SDGs and election manifestos.

More is little. Well-publicised public hearings at all levels, including villages, neighbourhoods, workplace, educational and health institutions, local councils, must take place with regular intervals. The skills and capacities of local councils must be enhanced to achieve the SDGs’ target and the indicators. Optimum level of participation and involvement of stakeholders (men and women at community level) will guarantee optimisation of SDGs results too.

There is no escape. The ruling parties are sandwiched between the two commitments. The global one is in the form of SDGs and the local one is in the form of manifesto. Align the two. Educate and involve party officials at all levels. Community Based Organisations are the best located to localise SDGs. Establish community-based SDGs networks. In the words of Robert Chambers, ‘putting the last, first’ is essential.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2018.

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